Hearing and Speaking “Ching Chong”

I am always a bit stunned and saddened to hear children speak Ching Chong, especially when they do it in the presence of their parents without fear of being corrected or stopped.

The other day as we were trying to enjoy a windy 65-degree day at the beach we could not but overhear three families sitting in front of us discuss the uselessness of spending time to learn a second language. As if on cue, one of the kids started in on the Ching Chong with at least one other child and one adult chiming in. Gotta love those everyday racist experiences.

I cannot tell you how tired I am of having to bite my tongue when really what I want to do is approach the offending parties and explain to them how ignorant, short-sighted, and limiting their attitudes and action actually are. I sat there, staring at my husband while practicing mindful breathing when in reality I wanted to say as they passed by, “Oh, how good you Engirsh and Ching Chong speak. Almost perfect for Haole like you. Welcome to America.”

As you can see, I need Jesus because I have practiced this conversation for too long.

The irony is that language immersion programs and second language programs are growing because America continues to slip behind not only in math and sciences but also in its ability to train multicultural, multilingual skilled workers.

The irony is that I grew up bilingual, lost much of my Korean language skills as I immersed myself in my academics, learned enough Spanish to help my kids through high school Spanish, and hated the way my parents spoke English with an accent when I was younger.

It was bad enough that I looked so weird compared to the beautiful, popular girls at school and church. It was hard knowing that my home smelled weird because of the pickled, fermented cabbage and radishes and that I probably smelled weird, too. It was humiliating and terrifying to walk home, ride the bus, walk the halls knowing that there were boys and girls who threatened to beat me up, screamed obscenities at me, and made elementary school worse than it needed to.

I loved and hated being who I was. I fiercely loved and hated my parents for their broken English and flawless Korean. And I didn’t understand until at least a decade later that regardless of the Ching Chong American kids would use to taunt me and my family it was our very ability to speak in two languages interchangeably that put us squarely in the lead of the American dream.

My parents may speak with an accent but they speak two languages. Ching Chong be damned.

But like I said, I need Jesus.

I don’t need the American dream as much as I have needed to plunge into the pain of being an outsider and embrace my multifaceted identity as a Christian Asian American/Korean American working married mother of three in the suburbs as a gift to steward not for revenge or self-righteousness but for Kingdom purposes. I have continued to appreciate the gift of language(s) and culture, and while I struggle with the anger that too quickly bubbles up inside at the Ching Chong comments I also quickly fall into a deep sadness for those who do not see the diversity and beauty of all God’s people.

There is such a limited view of God if we only know Him through the eyes of one language, one culture. Just like meaning gets lost in the translation between languages, no single culture or language can fully express, explain, proclaim the fullness of who God is and what the Gospel is. We can get a glimpse, even a blurry yet beautiful picture but it’s not complete.

So I must also correct my image of those families, children and adults who think speaking Ching Chong is funny and harmless. They are not my enemies. They are the neighbors I am called to love, and if they can’t speak my language I must learn to speak theirs. Sigh. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor. Love your neighbor.

Which leads me back to those families on the beach. They are back today. Pray with me that my scowl softens and that maybe a day at the beach will be the perfect opportunity for me to stretch my multilingual skills.


  1. Jennifer Clark March 28, 2014

    Wonderful and convicting post. As a half-White, half-Korean woman, my first impulse is almost always anger towards the ignorance of others instead of remembering my chief identity is in Christ, who calls us to love those who do not show love to us.

    • Kathy Khang April 1, 2014

      Anger is too often my knee-jerk reaction. I’m not sure if it will ever go away, and it’s not always a bad or negative thing to experience anger so long as I am able to move on to other productive actions.

      One of these days I will have to blog about the time my sister and I were on a family vacation in a not-so-diverse part of the country. Apparently I had a snappy comeback 😉

  2. Alan Turing March 28, 2014

    I really appreciate all your posts, and your focus on human dignity, even if it means bringing up hard issues. But I notice you’ve been relatively silent on the marginalization of gay Christians in evangelicalism – even though there have been several high profile stories over the past year or two involving your organization and others (recently, WorldVision).

    • Kathy Khang April 1, 2014

      Hi Alan, and thanks for taking the time to comment. Yes, I have been more than relatively silent on the marginalization of gay Christians in evangelicalism. I have been silent. I realize that my silence can be interpreted in many ways, but it comes now out of a place of complacency but of learning and listening. I am a married, heterosexual, mother of three and that alone in the conversation about sexual identity puts me in a place of privilege. And I’ll be honest. I’ve written about very personal experiences and that has been risky enough. How would you suggest I venture into advocacy or using this personal blog without overstepping privilege and experience?

      • Alan Turing April 5, 2014

        But but as someone who comes from both a place of privilege of power in this context, and decidedly experiences what it means to be marginalized in other contexts, wouldn’t you be well suited to discuss this issue? In many ways I think it is well connected to other issues you wrestle with on your blog.

        I am not asking you to take a particular theological stance on difficult issues, but as I see this, this issue is too big too ignore. It is dividing evangelicalism, its organizations, and members across the generations. It’s like the previous hot-button issue, the ordination of women, but since sex in involved, it draws so much more heat. And too many voices are concerned with doctrinal purity, rather than addressing the marginalization of gay Christians.

  3. ruthie|johnson March 28, 2014

    This—Thank you for this. It’s been a LONG week of the pain of figuring out how to “love” when I am silenced by privilege. Thanks for the reminder the sacrifice is worth it, my identity is in Christ. Thanks for sharing in the suffering. 🙂 I’m privileged to follow in your footsteps.

    • Kathy Khang April 1, 2014

      Thank you for reading and for staying on this journey with me. And please let me know if you are headed my way!

  4. bonbonsanotherday March 28, 2014

    Praying with you, sister. Come home safe.

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